Fueled by racism, politics leads us down an ugly road

Trump supporters ‘boo’ the media after a heckler was removed as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 in Birmingham, Ala. Eric Schultz | AP

Before two towers in Manhattan fell to the ground, the greatest and growing threat to the stability of the United States was the white man full of hate. The white supremacist groups operated in the shadows with the rare exception of spectacular terrorist attacks culminating with the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building.

The Justice Department and the FBI tried mightily to warn us of the danger posed by the demented and fanatical, but the attacks of 9/11 diverted our suspicions.

A 2004 FBI memo, declassified in 2012, warned that white supremacist groups were using 9/11 to recruit more sympathizers.

And yet, we were not alarmed. This is America. And the white hate was on the fringe, still somewhat invisible to us.

Long before the alleged white supremacists — a term that sounds much too kind — opened fire on Black Lives Matters protesters last evening, the fringe had moved into the mainstream. And America did not recoil in revulsion. It embraced it.

On Sunday, a tweet from a 7th District GOP account stoked the tension that’s been percolating between blacks and whites in recent years.

The tweet linked to an article full of racist imagery.

Longtime Republican operative Michael Brodkorb, now a political analyst for the Star Tribune, called out the racist tweet, then called out Republicans who didn’t step up to repudiate it.

There is political risk now in condemning racial hatred because it’s fueling the presidential campaign of 2016 and most every debate on the undercard.

On Sunday, Donald Trump lit the fuse with this tweet.

The statistics were bogus. The “bureau” from which they allegedly came, doesn’t exist. And it didn’t matter to Trump and his “I’m not saying, I’m just saying” campaign.

The tweet culminated a particularly racist weekend for the candidate whose popularity grows with every assault on our sensibilities.

“Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Donald Trump, the nation’s inciter-in-chief, said on Sunday when asked about a black protester who was beaten by his supporters at a campaign rally in Birmingham.

That, in case you missed it, is a call to arms from a man who would be president of the United States. Think long and hard about that.

Hate is playing well in the campaign of 2016.

After the Republican debate in September, Richard Skinner at the Brookings Institution thought we had seen the end of the “Summer of Trump.” But he was wrong. The more hateful and racially/ethnically divisive the speech, the more popular Trump became, and the more timid other politicians were to distinguish themselves from him.

Authoritarians fear the “other.” No issue defines Trump’s campaign more than immigration—and, more so than any other candidate, he has been willing to use racially charged language in support of his positions.

He also talks tough on trade and “law and order,” using polarizing language reminiscent of Patrick Buchanan or George Wallace. Trump seems to consistently appeal to ethnocentrism – favoring one’s own racial or ethnic group above others. Both in person and on-line, he attracts an alarming level of support from white supremacists.

On the other hand, he vehemently backs “earned” entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, whose beneficiaries are disproportionately white. (This sets him apart from other Republicans like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who are more willing to back entitlement reform).

Ethnocentric voters tend to display this combination of attitudes, judging policies based more on whether they apparently benefit their group rather than on more abstract criteria. European politics is now filled with extreme-right parties who back a welfare state—but only for our people.

A week ago, the FBI arrested two Virginia men for attempting to buy weapons from an undercover agent, which they had hoped to use to attack black churches and Jewish synagogues, charging documents show. They wanted to start a race war, the FBI said.

In an investigation this week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch said Asatru or Odinism, a recognized pagan Nordic religion popular with white racist inmates across the country, is being used to radicalize inmates to their cause.

The nation, too, is being radicalized.

This is the racial climate of the United States in 2016. This is the racial climate created by those on the fringe, who are stepping from the shadows. This is the racial climate maintained by a media too addicted to the game of politics. But this is not a game. This is not a political divide.

It’s not too late to stop the nation’s descent. It only takes the courage for someone to stand up to say “this is wrong.”

Editorial: Republicans need to stand up to Trump’s bullying (Washington Post)
Editorial: Mr. Trump’s applause lies (NY Times)